The SaGa games have a reputation for being a number of things. Among them: difficult, non-linear, aesthetically unique, and…freaking weird. They’re not your typical RPG. Even among those games, however, there is one that is decidedly the biggest oddball of them all, Unlimited Saga. Heck, Square Enix even decapitalized the “g” and put the game’s logo sideways on the box. You knew something was up.
Being a SaGa title, non-linearity is sure to arise. Unlimited Saga uses the Free Scenario System series fans will find familiar. There are seven characters to choose from, all with different backgrounds and missions. Players almost constantly have a plethora of options regarding where to go and what to do next, and the order in which they are done is mostly up to he/she who holds the controller. This helps ensure that no two adventures will be exactly the same.
While the seven stories don’t tell enthralling tales on their own, the overlying story of Unlimited Saga can actually be interesting. What keeps the seven stories tied together is a common goal among the heroes; all are seeking the Seven Wonders, which are large structures shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that gods lie within the Seven Wonders that, upon release, will trigger the beginning of a new Golden Age. Having personal reasons for trying to accomplish that feat, each character sets out in search of one of the Seven Grand Menaces, who play the roles of “the bad guys” and are trying to use the Seven Wonders’ power for their own selfish purposes. The rendezvous point for the protagonists is a festival taking place in one of the game’s cities. Count on anywhere from 10-30 hours of gameplay for each character, depending on which one and how much of a completionist you are. After going through seven quests and spending potentially 200 hours in the game, one most likely won’t be itching for another playthrough.
|Using the reel in battle.|
Instead of characters having a base level around which their stats are determined, each skill they have also has its own level. Unlike previous games that awarded growth after defeating enemies, Unlimited Saga makes players wait until the end of the given scenarios for the bigger portion of growth. It is only here when HP can increase and new weapons can be mastered. This effectively rids the game of any way to “power level.” There is a hexagonal skill set for each character, mapping their strengths. The proper selectionand placement of each can make the combat easier, so learn the system well. It’s certainly tough, but gamers looking for a serious challenge probably won’t mind.
What’s most readily noticeable about Unlimited Saga is its style. The graphics use a blend of 2D and 3D, brilliant colors, and a “sketch motion” animation system. The art is original and there are no signs of graphical corner-cutting. The game looks wonderful.
|Dialogue is done kind of like Fire Emblem|
Meanwhile, gamers are treated to a top-quality soundtrack. The music is as epic as any RPG’s should be, and each track is an audio pleasure. What isn’t so great are the English voices. They’re so uninspired and painful to listen to. It actually detracts from the respect one might have had for a few of the characters.
Unlimited Saga is a hard, hard game. That’s to be expected from the series, though, so this is actually a very welcome aspect. I liked the challenge it presented. It felt a lot more like the pencil and paper RPGs of yesterday with the way the maps are laid out, that being similar to a board game, on which the player is represented by a statue, moving one space at a time. Some maps are very large and it’s easy to get lost. This is okay because it gives one an excuse to revisit the Phantasy Star days by getting out a pencil and paper to draw a map. I’m well aware this sounds terrible to the casual gamer, and even to most RPG players, but the SaGa series has always been made with a different audience in mind. Talking about how SaGa was a different breed of RPG, series developer Akitoshi Kawazu told GameSpy.com, “We’re hardcore gamers making games for hardcore gamers.” Gamers should not walk into any SaGa game expecting it to play like any other RPG they’ve played outside of this series–that’s something that makes it great.
|I like the movement system. Shut up.|
Battles take the basic mold of a SaGa game and add a “Reel.” After the player selects what five actions to take before the turn begins, a spinning wheel comes up with different possible effects alternating round and round. The player stops the reel with the square button to see the character make his/her move. In lieu of that, the Circle button can “hold” the action and make it combine with the next in the player’s chosen sequence. This doesn’t work every time, but it does add more to the battles. Finding good combos will be essential to victory. Not every character has to take action in Unlimited Saga. If desired by the player, some characters can act multiple times while others just sit and watch for a turn. The same reel is used on the navigation map when avoiding traps.
“LP” or “Life Points” are back. When HP run out, enemy attacks start costing LP instead, of which a character generally only has a few. Loss of a LP renders a character unable to fight, and the main character of a given story must have LP, lest a game over will result. Some of the scenarios in the game are so tough that a character in the party might be out of HP by only the third or fourth battle, limping through the rest with only LP and a prayer. You’ll come out of some scenarios feeling like you just survived an atomic blast.
Unlimited Saga got a lot of hate from a lot of people, mainly because it’s very hard and so different from other RPGs. The “flaws” listed by so many people, in reality, show no signs of incompletion. The game is what the director wanted it to be, and everything from there on out is subjective. This reviewer happens to be one of the people who enjoyed the game in its entirety.
Out of 10
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|The Verdict: 6|